Donald Trump assured Americans Thursday that he is not acting in covert concert with Vladimir Putin. “I have nothing to do with Russia,” he said during his news conference, insisting, “The whole Russian thing, that’s a ruse.”
Those statements followed the firing of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, after it was reported that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his pre-inauguration phone conversations with the Russian ambassador. Flynn’s deception was notable because it suggested he had something to hide.
When BuzzFeed published a secret dossier on Trump that contained all sorts of disturbing allegations, the fear was that the Russian strongman had the means to blackmail the incoming president. But the salacious bits were so outlandish that they discredited the entire story.
Given his record, the fact that Trump denies something automatically raises strong suspicions that it’s true. Maybe it’s not. But here’s the crucial question: If Trump were in fact being directed by Putin, would he be doing anything different from what he has done?
Trump has taken a friendlier and more optimistic view of the regime in Moscow than anyone in American politics. As a candidate, he welcomed Russia’s military intervention in Syria on behalf of a vicious dictator. He said he would consider recognizing Russia’s seizure of Crimea and lifting the sanctions imposed in response to it.
He bragged that Putin had called him “brilliant,” and he extolled Putin as a stronger leader than Barack Obama. He invited the Russians to hack into Hillary Clinton’s email.
It’s already hard to remember how bizarre this once would have seemed for any American politician — particularly a Republican and particularly a president. Distrust of Russia has been a bone-deep instinct among Republicans since Warren G. Harding’s day. One of their most durable themes was that they were tougher and less gullible about Russia…